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2019 Detroit Autorama Preservation Award Presented by Steele Rubber Products

The Detroit Autorama Preservation Award pays tribute to the machines that inspired all that came after them and each year this award is presented to a vehicle chosen as the most outstanding car with significant importance in original condition, hence the name “Preservation Award”.

This year “The Empress” was chosen. This 1951 Chevrolet Custom Cruiser made a major impact on the custom and show car world, as did its owner, Carl Casper.

A look at “The Empress”

Carl Casper was born and raised in Flint, Michigan and started his career as a car builder when he was just 19 years old. His first build- a 1951 Chevy which he bought at the age of 15 before he could even drive it! Over the next few years, Casper would transform this plain Chevy into an award-winning custom show car.

The cars original name, “The Exotic Empress” was taken from Casper’s aunt’s beauty salon and definitely speaks to its look. The paint on the exterior is glamorous while the over the top interior truly makes this custom stand out.

In the original build, Casper made the following modifications:

  • A 57’ 283 Corvette Special HP/FI engine with six Stromberg 97 carbs
  • 4-speed Corvette Muncie transmission
  • A 57’ Chevy rear end
  • Custom front and rear grille
  • 3-inch chopped top
  • All panels radically altered in metal
  • A pancaked hood
  • Original paint scheme of blue with silver scallops (later changed to magenta and gold)

The completed Empress build was debuted at Detroit Autorama in 1961 and took home “Best in Show” (the equivalent of today’s Ridler Award). Over the years the Empress would win more than 200 major awards including the NHRA National Custom Car Championship and appeared on the cover of Car Craft’s Top Ten Customs issue. No historical custom car has ever achieved as many top awards. In 1963 the car was placed in storage- not to be seen for the next 40 years.

After much convincing, in 2004 Casper decided to do a complete restoration to the Empress which took the next two years to complete. Casper personally painted the gold scallops, custom blended the magenta pearl urethane paint (computer matched to the original color from 1962) and stitched the new interior.

Casper attended the 2019 Detroit Autorama show to receive his award as well as sign autographs and talk to fans about his rich heritage in car building. Several more of his famous builds were on display- the most notable being the Batmobile.

The Empress is a great example of a historic custom and extensive preservation efforts. The automotive restoration industry isn’t just about cool rides and over the top customs. A lot of what it’s about is history- understanding it and preserving it. Here at Steele we are proud to sponsor this award and in awe of Casper’s talent, accomplishments and creations. Congratulations to Carl Casper on a job well done preserving this beautiful, timeless custom!

Steele not only has all the products you need but all the knowledge you need to get the job done right, too. If you have questions about Rubber Parts or Weatherstripping on your Classic Car, Truck, Hot Rod or even your boat, trailer or RV, feel free to reach out to us! You can call us at 800-650-4482, contact us through our website or comment on this post and we’ll get you answers as quickly as possible. Check out our YouTube channel for our full library of how-to/installation videos.